Decolonizing White Sociology

Just as sociology notoriously failed to predict the civil rights revolution of the 1950s and 60s, it was unprepared for the eruption of racial conflict that spawned the Black Lives Matter movement. As before, dominant discourses complacently assumed that the nation had made great strides in “race relations,” highlighted by the election of “the first black president” in 2008.

By uncanny coincidence, the 1963 meeting of the American Sociological Association occurred on the same day as the historic March on Washington. In his presidential address Everett Hughes posed the right question: “Why did social scientists—and sociologists in particular—not foresee the explosion of collective action of Negro Americans toward immediate full integration into American society?” However, Hughes was utterly incapable of providing an answer to his own question and drifted off into pedantic obfuscation.

Actually, there were some sociologists who did anticipate the racial upheaval that “exploded” in the 1960s. Chief among them was W.E.B. Du Bois who wrote in 1906, at a meeting of the Niagara Movement in Harpers Ferry that spawned the NAACP:

We claim for ourselves every single right that belongs to a freeborn American, political, civil and social; and until we get these rights we will never cease to protest and assail the ears of America.

Du Bois was not alone. There was a cadre of minority and radical scholars who anticipated the civil rights revolution, precisely because it fit into their theoretical and political paradigm. But like Du Bois, they were regarded as substituting politics for science, and were ignored or marginalized.

Aldon Morris’s recent book, The Scholar Denied, is a canonical game changer because it vitiates sociology’s origin myth and demonstrates incontrovertibly that Du Bois is the rightful primogenitor of “Chicago sociology.” Morris’s larger purpose is to challenge dominant discourses in sociology that, ever since the inception of the discipline at the University of Chicago in 1892, have not only elided the groundbreaking and transformative contributions of black sociologists, but have also provided epistemic justification for racial hierarchy.

As Australian sociologist R. W. Connell reminds us, “sociology was formed within the culture of imperialism and embodied a cultural response to the colonized world.” Here is a jolt to “the scholastic unconscious.” Through Connell’s theoretical lens, it becomes clear that the race relations cycle advanced by Robert Park far from being value-free, embodies the logic of colonialism.

The four stages of the race relations cycle—contact, competition, accommodation, and assimilation—have been recited like a catechism by generations of sociologists on doctoral exams, oblivious to the ideological assumptions that lurk behind this deceptively innocuous language. “Contact,” according to Park, refers to groups who “come together through migration or conquest”—a specious shorthand for the systematic plunder of entire continents by Western powers over centuries, beginning with a global slave trade that transported over 12 million Africans to the New World to provide slave labor for plantation economies. The second stage in the cycle—“competition”—is yet another euphemism for colonial domination and the slave trade, including the system of “internal colonialism” that developed in countries that imported slaves. The third stage—“accommodation”—refers to the process whereby the vanquished group is rendered incapable of more than token resistance, and relations between the oppressor and the oppressed are normalized through law and custom. Assimilation, the final stage, refers to the ultimate incorporation of the subordinate group, culturally and biologically, into the society of the more advanced group. As Park wrote with chilling equanimity: “Races and cultures die—it has always been so—but civilization lives on.”

Hence, progress—the advance of civilization—was the pot of gold that lay at the end of the sociological rainbow (to borrow a phrase from Albion Small, one of the founders of Chicago sociology). The core assumption undergirding this epistemology is that both overseas and internal colonialism are part of a global teleology whereby peoples at a lower plane of civilization are incorporated into the culture and institutions of groups that have innate superiority over the peoples they dominate.

Sociologist Stanford Lyman argued that this evolutionary optimism helps to explain why sociology failed to apprehend, much less champion, civil rights until forced to do so by the rise of black insurgency in the South. As he wrote sardonically in 1993, “since the time for teleological redemption is ever long, blacks might consign their civic and egalitarian future to faith in the ultimate fulfillment of the inclusion cycles promise.” Sociology’s race relations cycle thus served to put full inclusion and social emancipation on pause by presenting assimilation as a matter of future inevitability rather than one of present urgency. Lyman stated flat out that “sociology has been part of the problem and not part of the solution.”

In The Racial Contract, Charles Mills provides another jolt to the colonial unconscious with a blanket indictment of race knowledge, suggesting that it is predicated on “an epistemology of ignorance” whose whole purpose is to obscure rather than to illuminate. To quote Mills:

One could say then, as a general rule, that white misunderstanding, misrepresentation, evasion, and self-deception on matters related to race are among the most pervasive mental phenomena of the past few hundred years, a cognitive and moral economy psychically required for conquest, colonization, and enslavement.

The ironic outcome, as Mills says, is that “whites will in general be unable to understand the world they themselves have made.”

So much for the fabled Chicago School of Race Relations. Indeed, it was not until the black protest movement—in both its nonviolent and violent forms—and the attendant upheaval that threw the entire society into crisis and led to the burning of cities—that sociology made the shift from the obfuscating terminology “race relations” to its rightful name: “racial oppression.” Radical and minority voices that had long been ignored or marginalized were, for the first time, thrust to the center of both academic and popular discourses.

By the 1980s, however, the race relations paradigm was restored to hegemony and today—half-a-century after the civil rights revolution—mainstream sociologists have reverted to discourses that prevailed half a century earlier. They celebrate “racial progress” and improved “race relations,” and when confronted with conditions at odds with their rosy diagnosis, they invoke the discredited culture-of-poverty theory (albeit in new rhetorical guise) as well as other articulations of victim-blaming discourses that prevailed even before the civil rights revolution.

This raises the paramount question: how do we explain intellectual hegemony and the process by which certain ideas achieve hegemonic status? This requires that we do more than examine the subtle ways that sociologists consciously and unconsciously reproduce social inequalities in our departments, universities, and even within the American Sociological Association. These issues are important, but the larger issue regards the structures and dynamics of knowledge production. We need to examine the machinery of hegemony, the precise mechanisms through which ideas become ensconced and canons are formed.

This requires that we subject the sociological enterprise to the critical eye that C. Wright Mills brought to The Power Elite. This begins with elite universities whose imprimatur alone launches careers, opens up doors to prestigious publishing houses and the op-ed pages of leading newspapers, and helps secure grants from foundations and government agencies. Grants, in turn, allow these entrepreneurs to form “schools” and “dream teams” that propagate their pet theories to fledgling scholars. It is an open secret that the academic wheel is greased with money, which means that the people and interests who control the purse strings are the engineers of knowledge production. Like the referee system for journals, the referee system for grants, functions to enforce ideological conformity by rejecting submissions that go too far in challenging the prevailing wisdom. Meanwhile, professional associations that often resemble fraternal societies, create rewardtocracies that dispense honorific titles, awards, and sinecures that invest hegemony with an indispensable aura of legitimacy.

To be sure, dissident viewpoints are tolerated in the academy, if only because they sustain the myth of the liberal university as a bastion of diversity and dissent. I do not deny the existence or vitality of diversity and dissent—rather, the key issue pertains to which viewpoints prevail. Which receive material support? Which are canonized? Above all, which are influential in terms of politics and public policy? In the final analysis, the ultimate test of critical reflexivity is not scoring debating points but rather advancing the cause of racial justice. And creating a social science that lives up to its emancipatory promise.

Stephen Steinberg is a Distinguished Professor of Urban Studies at Queens College and the Ph.D. Program in Sociology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is the author of many books, including Race Relations: A Critique. (Note: this post first appeared on the Stanford Press blog: http://stanfordpress.typepad.com/blog/2016/08/decolonizing-sociology.html)

More Hostility to Spanish: An Arizona Mayor

Fort Huachuca City is a small community in Arizona (pop. 1900) located approximately 20 miles from the Mexican Border. Mayor Ken Taylor was upset when he received an invitation to a meeting of U.S. and Mexican border city mayors because it was written in both English and Spanish, or “Spanish/Mexican,” as he put it in an email to John Cook, executive director of the U.S.-Mexico Border Mayors Association in El Paso:

I will NOT attend a function that is sent to me in Spanish/Mexican. One nation means one language and I am insulted by the division caused by language.

Cook’s reply to Taylor’s email was sharp:

I will certainly remove you from our email list. The purpose of the Border Mayors Association is to speak with one voice in Washington, D.C., and Mexico City about issues that impact our communities, not to speak in one language. My humble apologies if I ruffled your feathers.

Taylor, in turn, responded in a manner reminiscent of developer-candidate Donald Trump:

America is going ‘Down Hill’ fast because we spend more time catering to others that are concerned with their own self interests. It is far past time to remember that we should be ‘America First’ … there is NOTHING wrong with that. My feathers are ruffled anytime I see anything American putting other countries First. If I was receiving correspondence from Mexican interests, I would expect to see them listed First. Likewise, when I see things produced from America, I EXPECT to see America First.

Mr. Taylor’s reaction is rooted in a portion of the White Racial Frame that vilifies Latinos and their culture and language. It was early developed by Southern slaveholders and other white elites to justify the US seizure of sovereign Mexican territory in the mid 1800’s. This segment of the White Racial Frame received a “shot in the arm” as a result of the spread of Trump’s blatant anti-Latino rhetoric.

Mr. Taylor should be aware of two things:

First, to call Spanish “foreign” is ignorant of history. The presence of Spanish in what is known today as “the Southwest” precedes the arrival of the Mayflower at Plymouth Colony in 1620.

Second, with the growth of the Latino population, Spanish has become indispensable for businesses and government, maybe not in Fort Huachuca City but definitely everywhere else. Spanish is here to stay.

Dangers in Normalizing Racism: Trump Wildly Attacks Obama

Sometimes it seems that only late night comedians such as Seth Myers have nailed Donald J. Trump’s bigotry and normalization of racism. According to Myers,

We can’t become immune to it. We cannot allow it to become normalized.

Referring to Trump’s incendiary rhetoric about Muslim immigrants to the United States knowingly protecting terrorists, Myers noted, “To be clear, this is bigotry, plain and simple.”

The tepid reporting by most cable news and print commentators of Donald Trump’s latest inflammatory comments at a rally near Fort Lauderdale, Florida on August 10, 2016 declaring that President Barack Obama “honors Isis” and is the “founder of Isis” fails to identify the flagrantly racist nature of his most recent attack. In Trump’s words, President Obama “is the most valuable player” for Isis. Even a Trump supporter on a recent CNN broadcast, admitted that Trump’s emphasis on Obama’s middle name, Hussein, in the Fort Lauderdale rally, might have been designed to suggest that Obama is a foreign sympathizer.

After reiterating his claim of President Obama founding Isis several times on August 10 including during a news interview with conservative commentator, Hugh Hewitt, Trump backtracked the next day, declaring his remarks were simply “sarcasm” and adding “but not that sarcastic to be honest with you.”

Most subsequent news accounts of the rally have carefully avoided the mention of race and launched into extensive analyses of the ways in which Obama could or could not be deemed responsible for the rise of Isis. Even Hillary Clinton’s tweets in response to Trump’s commented were understated and did not mention the racist nature of these comments. As she wrote,

No, Barack Obama is not the founder of Isis. . . . Anyone willing to sink so low, so often should never be allowed to serve as our Commander-in Chief.

Ironically, relatively few commentators and mostly those from minority groups have zeroed in on the racist nature of Trump’s delegitimization of President Obama and the ways in which Trump has galvanized the anger of blue-collar and other white workers about their perceived loss of stature in an increasingly minority majority country. The New York Times Editorial Board on August 11 did identify Trump’s “racist rage” against the president as “appealing to the mob.”

Much earlier, during the Democratic primary race, Bernie Sanders keyed in on the “unprecedented level of obstructionism” against President Obama, naming the birther issue that Trump raised as specific evidence of what he termed “a racist effort.” As Sanders keenly observed,

No one has asked for my birth certificate. Maybe it’s the color of my skin, who knows?

The delegitimization of President Obama re-launched by Donald Trump draws on consistent themes that Trump has promoted for more than five years. Trump has repeatedly blasted President Obama as incompetent, a theme frequently leveled against minorities and women as underscored in recent sociological research. The implication that Obama is a secret Kenyan-born Muslim who sympathizes with terrorists labels the President as un-American, an outsider, and a foreigner. Add this to Trump’s call for a ban on immigration of Muslim immigrants and the deportation of 11 million illegal immigrants from the United States; his declaration of Mexican immigrants as in many cases drug dealers, criminals, and racists; his reluctance to disavow the Klu Klux Klan; his criticism of the mother of Army Captain Humayun Khan; and the claim that Judge Gonzalo Curiel was biased due to his Mexican heritage: it all adds up to a single, irrefutable refrain.

As Nicholas Kristoff concludes after analyzing four decades of a consistent pattern in Trump’s words and actions, “I don’t see what else to call it but racism.”

Our Post-Truth Culture: Institutional and Individual Consequences

This presidential election has become the perfect storm of “post-truth” politics and racism. It is reflected by the fact that an unqualified “know-nothing” like Trump could be nominated as the Republican presidential candidate. Trump’s disregard for ethics, extreme egoism, and racist solutions to complex policy problems, which include banning all Muslims, building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and bombing our enemies into the stone age, will have institutional and individual consequences if he is elected as the next president.

In an article entitled “Why We’re Post-Fact,” Pomerantsev states:

[W]hen Donald Trump makes up facts on a whim, claims he saw thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheering the Twin Towers coming down, or that the Mexican government purposefully send ‘bad’ immigrants to the US, when fact-checking agencies rate 78% of his statements untrue but he still becomes a US Presidential candidate—then it appears that facts no longer matter much in the land of the free.

Indeed, facts must not matter with the American electorate as the latest polls show Clinton and Trump very close, with 44% of the public supporting Clinton and 41% supporting Trump. What are the consequences of voters’ preference for “truthiness” over facts and feelings over reason?

Institutionally, the normal “self-correcting” checks and balances and separate institutions we cherish aren’t working. Pomeranstsev argues that while politicians have always lied at least they used to care about constructing a coherent and logical narrative, but not anymore.

At the individual level, the consequence is allowing a new level of racism that was unacceptable. Now we see an increase in aggressive frontstage racism as opposed to what Leslie Picca and Joe Feagin have documented as backstage racism, the sort that used to take place among whites at a fraternity party. In our new era one doesn’t have to feel embarrassed for being openly anti-Muslim or anti-foreigners.

Institutionally: Trump is a presidential candidate who makes his employees sign non-disclosure statements and says he’d consider doing the same in the White House if elected president. Does Trump believe that forcing people who work for him to refrain from later criticizing him or his actions publically would be legal in his role as president? So much for the federal Freedom of Information Act, not to mention the First Amendment right to criticize public figures without being sued for both libel or slander established by the U.S. Supreme Court in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan. In Sullivan the Supreme Court established the

principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.

Not so for Donald Trump. If Trump is elected we will see more than just constitutional First Amendment protections or public policies disregarded.

Some may question how much damage electing Trump for president can do. After all, the U.S. has survived bad presidents before. Some may even argue we have a constitutional framework of checks and balances and separation of powers that will serve as self-correctors in our system. Some may even contend that electing Trump will produce a counter-leftward political movement. As a good friend once said, “If we’re living through the 1950s again it must mean we’re going to have another 1960s.” Perhaps. However, because of the lack of importance on truth in our political climate this presidential election may show us that the normal “self-correcting” checks and balances and separate institutions we cherish aren’t enough to protect us against some real damage to our ideals and institutions.

Individually: This presidential election has also resulted in increases in open racism. It seems many Trump supporters feel liberated to openly and freely harm and insult people of color using Trump as a justification. For example, Isaac Chotiner made the point in Slate that anti-Muslim attacks are on the rise. Chotiner provides one example of a woman calling another woman “Muslim trash,” and a “terrorist,” before spilling a drink on her and stating she was going to vote for Trump because he would send Muslims away at a Starbucks in Washington D.C.

Another example where perpetrators of hate crimes have specifically mentioned Trump is the brutal attack in Boston on a homeless 58 year-old Latino that left him with a broken nose, battered body, and face drenched in urine. The two brothers who committed the hate crime claimed they targeted him because he was Latino and because they were “inspired” by Trump. These examples, while anecdotal, underscore the rise in hate groups since George W. Bush left office. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center hate groups, especially “Patriotic” white hate groups have been on the rise since the start of the Obama administration, and have been ticking upward since 2015. Trump’s white-framed racist and nativist presidential campaign will have negative consequences beyond this presidential election cycle for ethnic and racial communities.

This presidential election is operating in a political climate where substance and truth matter little. If we don’t start caring about facts and how we treat our fellow human beings regardless of their religion or race it will prove to cause long-term damage to our institutions and to race relations.

Post-Truth Culture and the White Racial Frame: Presidential Politics

To understand the 2016 presidential election and its potential consequences it helps to look at it through the lens of what Jeremy Gordon referred to in a recent NYT’s article as our “post-truth culture.” Gordon made the point that the popularity and addiction of professional wrestling, “reality tv,” and other forms of inauthentic entertainment—where “the blurry line between truth and untruth” only increases the appeal to audiences—have seeped into presidential politics as well. Gordon states,

For a while, it became trendy to insist that the 2016 presidential election, with all its puffed chests and talk of penis size, seemed more like a wrestling pay-per-view event than a dignified clash of political minds. In politics, as in wrestling, the ultimate goal is simply to get the crowd on your side.

Getting the crowd on “your side” leads to electoral victory. And Trump is a master at getting the crowd on his side. Despite switching political parties at least five times and being married three times, voters on the far right are most definitely on Trump’s side viewing him as a family man of conservative values. For example, in a National Public Radio report by Kirk Siegler, conservative Mormon Janalee Tobias said of Trump,

Donald Trump wants to make America great again. Think about what made America great in the beginning: There were laws and people came here legally and didn’t have their hand out.

Siegler wraps up the story by stating that Tobias believes Trump is a good family man who abstains from alcohol, two important pillars in the Mormon religion. Never mind that Trump marketed a brand of Vodka in 2006 under the slogan “Success Distilled.”

“Post-truth” may be the modus operandī of the Trump campaign, but it is nothing new when it comes to US politics and policy as one of Stephen Colbert’s best skits on Comedy Central on “truthiness” demonstrated a decade ago when he told us he would dismiss the facts and instead go with his guts when delivering the “news” for the nation. Colbert included the war in Iraq and how it just felt right that Saddam Hussein was gone as example of truthiness. However, scholars of Latin America have known that the “blurry line between truth and untruth” and truthiness have been a dominant part of U.S. foreign policy since the Cold War. The CIA’s overthrowing of the democratically elected President Árbenz in Guatemala is just one example.

Post-truth politics have domestic policy consequences as well, especially when it comes to lies about our racial past and current racial inequality. As Joe Feagin argues in his book White Party, White Government,

In these myth-filled narratives, the Protestant “settlers” came to North American with modest resources and dreams of liberty, and drew on religious faith, virtuousness, and hard work to create prosperity in a land allegedly populated by some thinly scattered “savage” Indians.

Most of us have also heard the narrative that the U.S. is a land of opportunity where can achieve the American Dream if they just work hard enough; however, empirical measures of racial inequality including a racial wealth gap, disparate levels of educational attainment, segregation, and the most prominent example, law enforcement abuses should dispel this belief. Yet it doesn’t. Why? Because we also live with what Feagin calls the white racial frame, which consists of a broad racial framing of society that includes racial stereotypes, narratives, images, emotions, and discriminatory actions. Feagin states,

The dominant frame has persisted now over centuries only because it is constantly validating, and thus validated by, the inegalitarian accumulation of social, economic, and political resources.

This theory helps to explains why there are still vast differences today among whites and people of color while at the same time a strong-held belief that the U.S. is a land of opportunity, freedom, and equality for all. Therefore, this presidential election is showing us the product of the intersection of a culture steeped in “truthiness” and the white racial frame. We should not be surprised to simultaneously have the most diverse electorate in the history of this nation—with people of color comprising 31% of the electorate—and also to have the Republican presidential campaign entrenched in white supremacy narratives and traditions.

This explains how Mormons such as Tobias can believe Trump doesn’t drink, or why the middle class voters believe that Trump understands them. A white respondent in the Atlantic who was asked why he supports Trump thus stated:

Speaking from the right, I believe that Trump embodies the frustration and rage of the white middle class. This is his main support base and is an evershrinking group that no longer feels they have a voice. Politicians pay lip service to the middle class but spend no time helping them. Black lives matter more and illegal immigrants who break the law get a free pass. Evangelical Christians in this country no longer feel that they have the right to religious freedom and have watched what they perceive as a sacred institution in marriage gutted. All the while, politicians they voted for to represent them just plain don’t. Now enter Trump.

People of color have a different view of things. Our reality is that America is a society where, as a mother of an eleven year-old bi-racial son, I will not allow him to wear a hoodie out in public. He is too tall and strong looking, his hair is too long, and his features are too dark to be safe if he does. And when he turns sixteen I will not only teach him the rules of the road, but also the rules of engagement with the police before I let him drive.

The truth is the U.S.’s racial demographics are changing, and this scares the “evershrinking group” of whites because self-serving political candidates like Trump are telling them they should be scared with nativist policy proposals such as banning all Muslims from entering the U.S. As Jacobson points out, these types of fear tactics led to the internment of the Japanese Americans during World War II, and are now being recalled as the correct thing to do by many. The consequence of our post-truth politics and the white racial frame may be a disruption to normal political cycles the likes of which we have not seen before. And this should scare us all.

Trump’s Speech: Emoting White Supremacy

I just watched Donald J.Trump accept the GOP nomination and his speech was a delivery device for white supremacist rhetoric. Trump’s speech proved popular with that audience, as David Duke, noted white supremacist, tweeted his congratulations:

The language Trump used, terms like “too politically correct,” “law and order,” “war on police,” the “illegal immigrants spilling over” borders, murdering “innocent young girls,” and, of course, the repeated use of “our country” in an auditorium filled with whiter-shade-of-pale white people, are all dog whistles that signal a core white supremacist message: White people built this nation, white people are this nation.

Don’t believe me? Check this is line drawing:

white men buildings

The drawing originally appeared in Tom Metzger’s newsletter, W.A.R. (White Aryan Resistance), and I included it in my book, White Lies (Routledge, 1997).

Part of the argument I made in that book is that white supremacist rhetoric is gendered. That is, white men are viewed differently than white women. The second part is that the language used by extremists is actually echoed in the mainstream. So, for example, that image from Metzger is uncannily similar to this (recent) ad for a series on the History Channel:

men who built america

The message is the same in the extremist publication as in the television ad. Both put white people at the center of the narrative about the country’s history. (updated 9:10am to add:) This is also the same message that Steve King (R-IA) was making when he asked the (rhetorical) question: “where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?”  And, Trump himself is a frequent re-tweeter of white supremacist accounts. One analysis estimates that a whopping 62% of Trump’s re-tweets are of accounts that have white supremacist connections.

Steve King on white people

 

It’s too easy to point and laugh at the white supremacists in the funny outfits (like Trump’s dad), while we fail to pay attention to the way white supremacy operates in our own institutions and families.

I called the book ‘white lies’ because such narratives distort the truth about whose labor actually built the wealth in this country: African, Latinx, Asian and Native people. That labor, and the wealth and products created by it, were routinely plundered by white people.

This is the lie of Trump’s speech, too.

As he would have it, white people (those in included in “our”) are somehow more entitled, deserving or worthy of being here than anyone else. It’s the idea at the heart of white supremacy. But, fact checking Trump doesn’t seem to be working..

One of the examples I used to make my case about the connection between extremist and more mainstream rhetoric was Pat Buchanan’s 1992 convention speech, which declared that there was a ‘culture war’ for the ‘soul of America.’

Pat Buchanan was once considered on the far-right of the Republican party, but in the past few years, the party – not to mention the country as a whole – has tilted far to the right. Buchanan’s once extreme views, are now regarded as mainstream. And, tonight, Trump delivered what amounted to a ‘dumbed down’ version of Buchanan’s 1992 speech.

What Trump is better at doing than most is emoting white supremacy. He’s galvanizing people based on feelings, not facts.

Trump wearing a hat

He ended his speech tonight with the repetition and variation on “Make America Great Again,” replacing great with Strong, Proud, and Safe. The fact that Trump’s message has been so effective with 14 million people suggests that there are lots of people who are feeling weak, ashamed, and afraid.

Sociologist Thomas Scheff, who studies emotions, argues that the emotion of ‘shame’ is perhaps the most powerful feeling and that it runs underneath many social problems. Most violence, he argues, is caused by a response to shame. It’s my guess that this undergirds much of Trump’s appeal, particularly around race. The line about “We cannot afford to be so politically correct anymore,” is a way of saying, “I will no longer be made to feel ashamed of the offensive things I say or do.”

Is there a political strategy to galvanize a set of emotions that run counter to the fear that he is spinning into political gold? I don’t know, but desperately wish I did.

Research Brief: Reframing Race and Policing as a Public Health Issue

The policing and criminalization of Black men in America has several origins: the prison industrial complex, socially sanctioned lynching, stop and frisk, and zero tolerance, as Keon L. Gilbert and Rashawn Ray  point out in their recent article in Journal of Urban Health. This graphic illustrates some of the key ideas in their research.

Gilbert and Ray on race and policing as a public health issue

Download this infographic as a PDF.

Gilbert and Ray use a framework they refer to as Public Health Critical Race Praxis (PHCRP) to question how justifiable homicides affect Black men continue to occur with such alarming frequency. These researchers use PHCRP to argue that the excessive use of force applied to Black men during encounters with law enforcement should be seen as a public health challenge.  The PHCRP framework advocates for health equity with theories and methods drawn from critical race and public health scholarship. PHCRP has several principles based on its four focal areas:

  1. Contemporary patterns of racial relations
  2. Knowledge production
  3. Conceptualization and measurement
  4. Action

The authors question this legacy of policing in three substantial ways. First, racial stratification leads to unequal life chances due to the way current research criminalizes Black men of all ages. Second, criminalization of their race and gender limits health identity formation for Black men. Lastly, prejudice and racism lead to a negative experience for Black men within the criminal justice system.

PHCRP also provides principles that confirm inform policy aimed at correcting this legacy of policing in order to achieve health equity for Black men. This includes:

  1. The collection of data on death by legal intervention
  2. The repealing of stop and frisk laws nationwide
  3. The implementation of Community Review Boards
  4. The establishment of accessible mental and preventive health services

Thus, Gilbert and Ray use PHCRP to demonstrate how critical race theory offers solutions to build more equitable relations between law enforcement and the communities they serve.  Find more research on race and policing here.

~ Melissa Brown is a PhD Candidate in Sociology at the University of Maryland and social media manager for the Critical Race Initiative

 

 

 

Ida B. Wells — Happy Birthday Today!

[Note: We are repeating this 2008 review of a biography of Ida B. Wells on her birthday today. And in honor of her central role in founding a very early Black Lives Matter movement.]

There is a new biography out about Ida B. Wells, the anti-lynching activist and one of the founders of the NAACP. The biography, called IDA: A Sword Among Lions, is written by Paula Giddings (who also wrote When and Where I Enter), and promises to be the definitive biography of Wells. It’s just been released, so I haven’t read it yet, but it’s at the top of my reading list once my current book project is complete. Here’s the excellent review the Washington Post written by Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, a professor of history at Yale (rather than posting an excerpt, I’m including the entire review here because it’s so well done, book cover image from the same source):

Ida B. Wells was in England in 1894 when she heard that white Southerners had put a black woman in San Antonio, Tex., into a barrel with “nails driven through the sides and then rolled [it] down a hill until she was dead.” The 31-year-old Wells, a black Southerner, was seasoned to the widespread phenomenon of mob torture and murder that went by the shorthand “lynching”; in fact, she was abroad on a speaking tour denouncing it. Nonetheless, she shed tears over the latest “outrage upon my people.”

Her call to speak out against lynching had come just two years earlier, when a Memphis mob murdered her close friend and neighbor Thomas Moss. The incident started as a dispute among white and black boys playing marbles, but it quickly evolved into an excuse to murder Moss, a successful businessman who was drawing patrons away from a nearby white grocer.


White Southerners explained to Northerners that they lynched only when they had to: when black men threatened, assaulted and raped white women. Wells was determined to expose that lie. As the murders of the woman in the barrel and Thomas Moss attest, white Southerners also killed black women and economically threatening black men. And even when the mobs tore apart a black man who had been found with a white woman, it wasn’t always rape. Sometimes, Wells declared in print, the man was not “a despoiler of virtue,” but had succumbed “to the smiles of white women.” Her editorial in Free Speech, the black weekly she co-owned in Memphis, led white residents to destroy the newspaper’s office and threaten to kill her. But even after she was forced into exile from the South, she continued to proclaim — as a banner headline over one of her articles in a New York paper declared in 1892 — “The Truth About Lynching.”


For speaking plainly about rape, sex and murder, Wells lost her home and her livelihood. For the rest of her life, she had to defend her reputation against both white and black people who called her a “negro adventuress” and “Notorious Courtesan.” A black newspaper editor suggested that the public should “muzzle” that “animal from Memphis,” and the New York Times dubbed her “a slanderous and dirty-minded mulatress.”


Wells was an orphan and a poor, single woman who supported her younger brothers and sisters through teaching and journalism. She recognized that “my good name was all that I had in the world,” yet she would not be silenced. Wells used words to fight white Southern lynch mobs, an indifferent white Northern public and, sometimes, black critics who felt that her outspokenness undermined their agenda. Southern white supremacy was cruel and crazy, and she was the rare person who could see beyond the cultural insanity in which she was immersed. For that she paid dearly.


Paula J. Giddings tells several larger stories as she narrates Wells’s life. Foremost among these interventions is a history of lynching and opposition to it. She spares no details as she tracks the development of spectacle lynchings at the turn of the century, when lynching became a premeditated act, hundreds of people converged on the scene, and the mob sometimes tortured the victim all day before killing him or her in the evening.


In exploring Wells’s early life — she was born to enslaved parents in 1862 in Holly Springs, Miss. — Giddings also paints a rich portrait of black life during Reconstruction. She movingly recounts dashed African American hopes in Tennessee in the 1880s and ’90s as white Southerners tightened segregation. Wells, for one, refused to accept it. When told to move to a blacks-only train car, she refused, bit the conductor as he threw her off the train, filed suit against the railroad and won $500 in damages.


Finally, Ida becomes a national history as Giddings skillfully recounts the great migration of Southern African Americans to Northern cities in the first decades of the 20th century. Wells moved from Memphis to New York to Chicago, where she married attorney Ferdinand Lee Barnett Jr. in 1895. There she confronted a new set of problems as a social worker and neighborhood organizer, but she also gained a modicum of power through local politics and women’s suffrage. Giddings describes the tensions within the black women’s club movement, which fought locally and nationally to ameliorate Jim Crow, and excels in portraying the sexism of black male civil rights activists and their white allies.


Despite a long and influential career in journalism, social work and politics, Wells has not received the recognition she deserves. She left an unfinished autobiography, and other authors have dealt with her activism in various contexts. Giddings set out to write a definitive biography and has succeeded spectacularly. Ida gradually brings us to see the world through Wells’s eyes; as she shops for a new seersucker suit that we know she can’t afford or feels betrayed when fellow activists try to leave her off the list of founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, we come to love this brave and wise woman.


Read it and weep. Then give it to the last person who told you that ideals are a waste of time.

Can’t wait to read it. [edited to add the next paragraph…thanks to Joe for the suggestion.]



Wells, when she is recognized, is usually acknowledged as a journalist and an activist, but she was also an important early sociologist and social theorist. Kathy Henry, in a sociological analysis of her feminist and anti-racist ideas writes:

“In the latter part of nineteenth century, social theories from Ida B. Wells-Barnett were forceful blows against the mainstream White male ideologies of her time. . . . Wells-Barnett’s social theory is considered to be a radical non-Marxian conflict theory with a focus on a “pathological interaction between differences and power in U.S. society. A condition they variously label as repression, domination, suppression, despotism, subordination, subjugation, tyranny, and our American conflict.” (Lengerman and Niebrugge-Brantley, 1998, p.161). Her social theory was also considered “Black Feminism Sociology,” and according to Lengerman and Niebrugge-Brantley (1998), there was four presented themes within the theory: one, her object of social analysis and of a method appropriate to the project; two, her model of the social world; three, her theory of domination and four, her alternative to domination. Although those four themes were present in her theory, one could assume that the major theme above the four was the implication of a moral form of resistance against oppression, which is not farfetched seeing that oppression was the major theme in her life.”

Wells’ life and social thought are important examples of taking race and gender into account simultaneously.

“Making America Great Again”: Race, Resentment and Donald Trump

As I wrote in my 2011 book, At this Defining Moment, the dominant narrative to emerge from the American media concerning the 2008 U.S. presidential election was that with Barack Obama’s victory, the U.S. had finally turned the page on its dark history of racial strife, and was well on its way to definitively vanquishing the problem of race. The clear evidence of the past 8 years, however, is that this sentiment was woefully premature. The U.S. is a deeply polarized nation at this time with regard to issues of race and social justice, and nothing demonstrates this more clearly than the startling and disturbing presidential candidacy of Donald Trump.

The Man, in His Own Words

Donald Trump’s rise and fervent populist appeal initially baffled, astounded, and flummoxed political observers from all sides of the political spectrum. For months, he grabbed headline after headline with his noxious, racially tingled rhetoric, flagrant anti-immigrant nativism, “frat-boy” masculine bravado, sexual boasting, general aura of crudeness and total disregard for the accepted rules of political discourse. Surely, it was at first believed, Trump’s campaign would be a short-lived farce.

A real-estate tycoon and reality television show star, Trump had never held political office and demonstrated very little knowledge of foreign or domestic policy; and his “exceeding flexible positions on different hot-button issues” meant that he would never pass muster as a true “conservative” with a capital C. In response to the major challenges facing the U.S., Trump had offered only a string of exceedingly vague, boastful proposals, to include ending illegal immigration by building a “big, fat beautiful wall” along the entire U.S./Mexico border, and turning the country around by “hav[ing] so much winning if I get elected that you may get bored with the winning.”

Trump has largely built his 2016 presidential bid around a series of inflammatory statements articulated around the axes of race, nation and immigration. He has advocated establishing a database to register American Muslims, killing the extended family members of suspected terrorists, torturing military enemies and overturning the 14th amendment to end birthright citizenship. Following the June 2016 mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, he went as far as to propose “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

Much of Trump’s rhetoric has also centered in on “Mexicans.” “When Mexico sends its people,” he told an enthusiastic crowd gathered at his campaign kick-off in June 2015,

they’re not sending their best. . . . .They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

The candidate caused an uproar in early June 2016 with his repeated insistence that the U.S.-born federal judge Gonzalo Curiel was unfit to preside over a lawsuit against him because the judge’s parents had immigrated from Mexico. And though Trump claims to “have a great relationship with the blacks,” in February 2016 he gave a wink and a nod to the American white supremacist movement, by repeatedly refusing to disavow the endorsement of former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke, saying that he needed to do some “research” before he could distance himself from any group that might be “totally fine.” The day after the interview, Trump issued a brief disavowal, blaming “a bad earpiece” for his earlier failure to disown the KKK.

The Clear Choice

The Trump campaign, however, was not a farce. And it soon became clear that Trump succeeded not in spite of his inflammatory speech, but because of it. In the Republican primary, Trump easily defeated more than 15 declared rivals, including 9 state governors and 5 U.S. senators. Desperate, organized efforts on the part of GOP leaders in early 2016 to thwart Trump’s pursuit of the nomination met with utter failure. His campaign boasted in early June that Trump had won more primary votes than any other Republican candidate in history, a claim that several media outlets subsequently verified as true.

Trump is reviled by the American left, which views him as pompous, uninformed, racist, nativist, misogynistic and anti-American, or some combination of the above. In an interesting twist, Trump has come to be perhaps equally reviled by much of the conservative intellectual class. A wide swath of prominent thinkers to the right-of-center have condemned Trump, describing him as a crude “megalomaniac” with no actual allegiance to the conservative cause, “epically unprepared” to be president, and likely to destroy the Republican party. In the words of one conservative journalist,

Donald Trump has risen to become the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee over the strenuous objections of just about every rightist who’s ever lifted a pen.

Members of the Republican establishment, for their part, have been bitterly divided over the candidate. While some openly support him, others, such as former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, have vigorously denounced him. For the majority of Republican elected officials, however, Trump appears to be an albatross wrapped around their necks; the clear, if inexplicable, choice of their base, a man that they must hold their noses to accept and endorse through gritted teeth.

Making America Great Again

Trump is now one of two people that will become the next president of the United States. His run-away success in the race thus far comes despite condemnation from the American left and the conservative media and the limited, grudging support of GOP insiders. Trump’s rise cannot, therefore, be explained on the basis of conventional political allegiances and the normal workings of the two-party system. The key to his ascendency lies, instead, in his ability to appeal directly to the rage and aggrievement of a powerful key demographic- working and middle-class white American men, and his concomitant promise to elevate white American manhood again to its rightful place of dominance and superiority.

There are clear parallels, in my reading, between Obama’s first race for the White House and Trump’s current bid. In the 2008 campaign, Obama figured as a kind of black “messiah” or “savior” figure among white liberals, endowed with “superhuman powers” to “redeem” white Americans and to heal the nation’s racial wounds (Logan 2011).

Trump occupies a similar role in this race among his supporters on the right. He figures in the election as a populist superhero, a crusader and champion of the cause of a right-wing white masculinity that perceives itself to be profoundly imperiled and deeply aggrieved. Brash, braggadocios, and unapologetic, Trump’s racialized, patriarchal rhetoric articulates a rage rooted in a deeply felt loss of racial and gendered entitlement. For an angry, dying brand of white American masculinity, he stands as validation, spokesman, and belligerent defender.

Trump’s candidacy can be described as a response to Obama’s presidencies (race) to Hillary Clinton’s rise (gender)—both made him more possible, more likely at this time. He is also a response to the “dog-whistle politics” of racial and gendered resentment and the blatant obstructionism of President Obama’s policies practiced by Republican leaders during the last 8 years. But the anger and aggrievement fueling Trump’s rise have much deeper roots as well; grounded in a decades-long resentment of those- “minorities,” immigrants, feminists, gays and liberals – who have usurped “our” country and taken away “our” freedoms. Whereas white males have been the losers in American culture for decades now, Trump boldly declares that he is a “winner,” “always” winning. Whereas the U.S. has for too long been going down the drain, Trump proclaims that he will “Make America Great Again,” restoring to prominence the powerful triumvirate of whiteness, masculinity, and American global dominance.

The election thus, has come to reframe the broader culture war in the United States. What is at stake is a definition of who and what America is, who is a person, who has rights, who is fully entitled, and who is a pariah. Just how far should we take this “equality” thing anyway. As one journalist writes,

This election is a referendum on the existence and civic participation of Americans who are not white men — as voters, as citizens, as workers, as members of the military, as presidents.

However haltingly and painfully, change is coming to America. But a core of white American men- many of them Trump supporters- are in open revolt. Railing against the cultural and demographic shifts taking place in the U.S., they have pledged allegiance to the demagogue and authoritarian that gives voice to their rage. Trump now elevates and legitimizes the most base instincts and bigotry of certain portions of the electorate. Thus it is assured that, even given his likely electoral defeat, there are many more years of ugliness and conflict around race, immigration and a host of other issues, to come.

Dr. Enid Logan is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Minnesota.

Latino Voters Have Had Enough

 

Woman Holds Latino Eligible Voter Sign

 

Politicians have conveniently vilified Latinos for political gain for far too long. Coming of political age in California where Republican Governor Pete Wilson, who was described as too “wonkish” and “underwhelming” successfully won a second term as governor largely because of his anti-immigrant campaign tactics, I have heard racist commentary to prop up politicians for as long as I can remember. According to law professor Ian Haney López, politicians have been using coded language to disguise racist messages to win electoral support among whites in what he refers to as “dog whistle politics.”

Haney López demonstrates how this tactic has successfully been used by both political parties since at least George Wallace and the Republicans regained control of the South; however, it is about to implode this presidential election. The dog whistle fell into the wrong hands with Trump this time. Consequently, it will have disastrous results on the Republican Party during this presidential election cycle—some of which we are seeing already as Republican donors are not giving their money and long-time Republicans, such as George Will, are leaving the party.

Why aren’t dog whistle politics going to work during this presidential election? Two simple reasons: changing racial and ethnic demographics and immigration politics.

Demographics. According to a PEW Research Center finding, eligible voters from ethnic and racial groups will comprise 31% of the electorate making this the most racially diverse electorate in U.S. history. Furthermore, the largest number of Latinos will be eligible to vote in U.S. history at 27.3 million – up from 23.3 million in the 2012 presidential election. Of these Latino voters, PEW researchers point out: Hispanic millennials will account for nearly half (44%) of the record 27.3 million Hispanic eligible voters projected for 2016—a share greater than any other racial or ethnic group of voters.”  This brings me to my next point.

Woman Holds Latino Voters: Making History Sign Aloft

 

Immigration politics. The recent Supreme Courts 4-4 ruling that halts President Obama’s executive actions protecting undocumented immigrants will matter even before the issue is addressed by the Court again. This is because an estimated 4 million undocumented immigrants have children who are U.S. citizens. As my co-authors and I detail in our study of undocumented Latino youth, Living the Dream, the racializing effects generated by our broken immigration system have had a permanent impact on their lives. These young Latinos have missed out on countless opportunities growing up—from participation in extracurricular activities and attendance at elite colleges where they have been accepted to being separated from their parents who have been deported. For most of these Latino youth, the U.S. is the only country they have ever known and it has attacked them and their families yet again with this Supreme Court decision. Most of these Latinos have grown up in mixed-status families and a majority of all Latinos voters have personal connections with someone who is undocumented.

Clearly, immigration matters to Latino voters. This presidential election will remind Republicans—who are supposedly all about family values and personal responsibility—that the personal is political for Latino voters and their families, as I’ve noted at NBC Latino News.

While the Republican Party falls apart before our eyes—in large part because of the racist messages by Trump—one can assume this will impact the other branches of government as well. With a Democratically controlled Senate and a new Democratic president that is sympathetic to immigration reform a new liberal Supreme Court majority will soon follow. All this will prove to be a window of opportunity to finally pass comprehensive immigration reform and may eventually threaten the race-based gerrymandering that has contributed to building today’s Republican advantage in the House.

Of course, all this will only happen if Latinos and other people of color turnout out in record numbers. I am hopeful that the results of this election show us all that the days of dog whistle politics are numbered.

~ Maria Chavez is Associate Professor of Political Science at Pacific Lutheran University and a regular contributor to Racism Review.